Is Education Technology Actually Improving Learning?

This article is part of a new series for IT professionals in the education space. If you missed it, read the first article What is EdTech?” where we’ll be adding links to additional articles as they publish.

“EdTech” has officially achieved buzzword status. I expect your school has some level of education technology in the classroom. You’re likely adding more in the years to come.

So it’s natural to ask, with the proliferation of devices in today’s schools, has technology improved education?

I’m not a researcher, but it’s clear that the answer can be yes and no. New studies come out regularly, revealing both celebratory and alarming results. These varied outcomes indicate that EdTech is more of an art than a science. How schools apply technology in the classroom today has room to grow tomorrow.

What does the research say? This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but here are some of the positives and negatives.

EdTech: The good

Higher student achievement

A study by Michigan State University professor Binbin Zheng analyzed 15 years of data from already-completed studies, and found that 1:1 laptop programs had a statistically significant positive impact on student test scores in English/language arts, writing, math, and science.

Higher learning and engagement

Much has been written about the impact of iPads in the classroom, but these two researchers found much of the existing research to be anecdotal. In their study, they did find that iPads contributed to greater student learning for elementary school students—accompanied by appropriate teacher guidance, student training, and project-based learning frameworks.

EdTech: The bad

Worse standardized test performance

Is taking tests online harming student performance? The “device effect” may be worsening student performance in online testing, as one analysis on Ohio test-takers found. A Swedish study has also found that despite heavy investment in iPads, Swedish students who were using the internet the most in and out of school performed the worst on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. 


In a study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, college students are spending more time than ever during class on non-class-related digital activities. Is all the tech inhibiting their learning instead of enhancing it?

So what?

Most educators agree that technology is not the silver bullet of delivering a quality education, but it can be a vital piece of a well-built curriculum. Technology isn’t going anywhere, and educators continue to have opportunity to try new approaches, test new devices, software, apps, and other tools, and see what works for their students. EdTech is still in its infancy, as Bill Gates pointed out at the 2016 ASU GSV Summit, but it’s likely that the best is yet to come.

This content was adapted from our eBook What IT Leaders Need to Know About Education Technology. Get a close look at EdTech trends and challenges, and learn from leading IT leaders who are championing modern technology in their schools, when you download your copy.